FIFA, the international governing body of football, paid at least $5 million to the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) when Ireland failed to qualify for the 2010 World Cup after Frenchman Thierry Henry’s handball that helped score the goal leading to a win for France.
In order to avoid Irish legal action over the handball incident that resulted in Ireland’s elimination in the play-off, FIFA made a payment to the FAI after an agreement was reached with officials.
FAI Chief Executive John Delaney said “We felt we had a legal case against FIFA because of how the World Cup hadn’t worked out because of the Henry handball,” in an interview with Ireland’s national radio RTE on Thursday.
Henry, a retired international French striker, touched the ball with his hand illegally without being caught by the referee, helping to score the goal which qualified France for the 2010 World Cup at the expense of Ireland.
FIFA said the payment was made as a “loan” which was written off at the end of 2014.
Ireland was threatening to sue FIFA unless it received compensation, either through an exceptional entry as the 33rd team in the World Cup or financial compensation.
Delaney said he exchanged some words with Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, at a meeting in Switzerland following the 2009 qualifier.
Blatter announced he will resign from FIFA presidency on Tuesday despite his recent reelection, amidst numerous scandals that shook the organisation. He is expected to step down by March.
“So that day I went in and I told him how I felt about him, and there were some expletives used, we came to an agreement. … It was a payment to the [FAI] to not proceed with a legal case,” Delaney said.
Following Delaney’s revelation, FIFA issued an explanatory statement detailing the terms of the agreement.
“While the referee’s decision is final, and the Football Association of Ireland (FAI) ultimately accepted it as such, in January 2010 FIFA entered into an agreement with FAI in order to put an end to any claims against FIFA.
“FIFA granted FAI a loan of USD 5 million for the construction of a stadium in Ireland. At the same time, UEFA also granted the FAI funds for the same stadium.
“The terms agreed between FIFA and the FAI were that the loan would be reimbursed if Ireland qualified for the 2014 World Cup.
“Ireland did not so qualify. Because of this, and in view of the FAI’s financial situation, FIFA decided to write off the loan as per 31 December 2014.”
A statement by the FAI on its website puts the settlement amount at 5 million euros (approximately 7 million US dollars in January 2010), not 5 million US dollars (approximately 3.6m euros in January 2010) as FIFA claims. The FAI said it has not previously commented on the subject matter due to a confidentiality agreement required by FIFA.
“The settlement was reached following strong legal advice given to the Association regarding the case against FIFA, and was a legitimate payment that enabled the Association to put €5m into the Aviva stadium project. This is fully reflected in our financial statements which are audited independently,” the statement asserts.
Delaney had not openly mentioned the amount of the payment in the radio interview, citing the confidentiality agreement, but laughed and complimented the interviewer Ray D’Arcy when D’Arcy suggested a figure of “five million.”